Milestones | Celebrate them, let them go and keep moving

 

It has been a heady graduation weekend for me. The ceremony. The podium experience as I received my BA degree in Counseling and Psychology. Fellowship with family and friends. Posting of photos. The euphoria of it all. Yet, I need to close this now. I have been told before that today’s breakthroughs are tomorrow’s ego trips. Yet, I also acknowledge, as my resident tutor 😉 has taught me, that milestones ought to be celebrated. The key thing is not to remain there.

So, today, we move on.

Graduation day was more than a milestone for me. It was an acknowledgement of a past in the present and gateway to a hopeful future. My past is a blend of beautiful, sad, painful, mundane memories. On Saturday, I bowed in deep gratitude and in awe of the grace of God. I chose to suspend, not forget, but suspend the pains of the journey on the day.  Those memories go beyond my Daystar experience. It has been my whole life quest.

The awards, Dean’s and Vice-Chancellor’s, were a pleasant surprise. A really pleasant surprise. The most beautiful realization is the freedom of living a day at a time during my stay at Daystar which was not geared towards obtaining awards or recognition. I am a shy guy. I momentarily battled with the idea of having to receive the awards during the graduation ceremony. I recalled how I once dropped out of a walking race (It was a thing then) when I realized I was lying second with a lap to go. I saw myself on the podium receiving the silver medal. I panicked and dropped out of the race.

Being with family and friends on Saturday and sharing intimately, though in a small way, about what it has been like completing a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a span of almost 30 years (I was in USIU in 1990) was humbling. And this was not in a space of regret or wishing it could have been different. I am grateful for the abundant grace, my loving wife and several lecturers who let me express myself in class beyond the course outline requirements. My classroom experience was a healing journey toward the promise of not regretting the past nor wishing to shut the door on it. I dedicate my honors listing to these lecturers. And those hugs from some of my teachers after stepping off the podium on Saturday were just the life-giving affirmation that I can do the next thing…whatever that is.

I yearn for people seeing themselves as whole beings regardless of the circumstances of their lives. Nowhere has this yearning been fed than as a class rep of several classes. Being a class rep has been my truest call to ministry and class WhatsApp groups have been my pulpit.  I have truly cherished and grown from the experience. To my fellow students, thank you. I may have been over 20 years older than a majority of you but you helped me in several ways: in how to study, how to parent my son including giving me lessons on how pocket money is dispensed, and how not to talk about his dating life. To you, for letting me meddle in your lives, do I dedicate the VC’s Award.

To our new VC, Prof Laban Peter Ayiro, I was skeptical about change coming to Daystar. You have only been around for only four months and I am tempted kuingia box of trusting that change is really possible.  I even penned an article about my skepticism. You have talked of caring as a value. You have listened to us when we have risked to speak up. Keep katiaring us and creating the space for healing and thriving to take place. Please.

I am coming back because I am inspired by the promise of a transformed Daystar.

To my sweetheart, you let me be me. You expressed concerns where you needed to and you provided extra tuition for classes that were not even your preserve. During the crisis, we battled individually, yet together. It was the one time I felt so helpless in our marriage. The woundedness was real. And then Saturday happened. And a lot more in the recent past. It was a kind of affirmation that if you are going through something, keep going. I love you loads.

To my son, who got all the mushaino I promised not to wear at my graduation, you have been the SI Unit of my growth as a father – in role, identity and authority. You have kept me going and in one instance, I chose not to cheat in a CAT because I was afraid of what you would think if you found out. It was not about honesty, integrity or anything like that. You have been my wing-man bila you knowing. You’ve taught me what unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation looks like. It’s sometimes a brutally slow process. I’ll keep the mushaino to keep remembering.

To my family, this is testament of God’s faithfulness. You had several questions for me and I did not always have answers for you. The ultimate answer was and is to keep moving. It will all make sense eventually. Maybe. But we keep moving.

To my fellow road trippers on the recovery journey, you helped birth this dream of going back to school through your promise to love me until I learn to love myself. In 2001, I think, I shared the desire to go back to school. It was certainly not straightforward. Several false starts later, here we are before we are halfway through, I believe.

Here’s to more miracles, a day at a time.

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Overcoming the war within

source: meetville.com

“Chris, I invite you to imagine a life different from all that you know about yourself when you had a chaotic life and now, the one of your recovery journey. Imagine a Chris different from all that.”

“No, it isn’t possible. This is it! Besides, it’s better than what I used to have.”

“I thought so. You couldn’t even if you tried, could you?”

“Nope! Simply because it just isn’t possible or even reasonable to do so.”

Within two days of that conversation with Ginger, I prematurely quit that training program where I felt my current life as it stood was being invalidated and I was being vilified for not doing the impossible. I quit because the program coaches were wrong, and I was right. I quit because they deliberately raised the stakes so high that in my failure to attain them, they could then validate themselves for having such a demanding six months leadership program. I quit the program. I resented being put on the spot in a conversation I felt I couldn’t win. I quit.

I had quit several times in my life; when drunk and in my recovery journey. When I got sober, I saw and accepted why I used to quit during my alcoholic doldrums; that life I had was a loser’s life. Quitting was the obligatory part to complete the script.

Recovery presented a different dance to the quitting song.  I was now sober. Sticking with the winners was the rallying call and all the self-help and empowerment books never tired in reminding me that winners never quit. I have found myself in situations where I really needed to quit; a dangerous relationship, an unfulfilling work situation, being in the wrong queue, or in a matatu that had been nabbed by cops or one that was simply heading the wrong direction. But no, I remind myself of my commitment to stick it out and that I had put my butt on the line. In my mind, I bang my chest with my fist proudly. The KDF would have been proud of me as their newest, proudest, most committed recruit. If only I wasn’t too old.

Oh, excuses, I thought, were a mark of one who is truly in touch with reality. I never called them excuses, though. Explanations. Reality checks. Pragmatic observations, maybe. But not excuses.

And with an explanation (read excuse), I quit that leadership training in 2008.  My contention was that Ginger didn’t know what she was talking about when she challenged me to see my life outside and apart from all that I already knew as a problematic drunk and a recovering alcoholic. As if it existed. Mschew!

In 2009, I was thrown into a deep end of that life that doesn’t exist. I was to be introduced to the Christians’ world. Maybe say reintroduced. And it was with this backdrop of being a Christian in recovery that I was recently invited to share my story at the chapel sessions at Daystar University.  I had been there in 2013 but then it was different; to share my story and market the services of the rehab I then worked in.

This time, I shared my story at several forums, but in preparing for this one, I was asked to draw my sermon on a couple of verses from scripture. I struggled with that for a while. I read and reread the assigned verses and slowly welcomed the thoughts arising. I found it a bit daring. I was going to talk about my encounters with Christians when I was drinking; now, this is a topic I don’t often openly venture in where Christians are involved. While I take full responsibility for how I treated Christians in those days, I can’t say I find the same accepting spirit when I share my experience of getting help from them or even their attitude when they were offering it. Yet, in preparing for the chapel session, I felt a deep stirring to share this with the audience. It would be a risky move, in my opinion. The stakes were higher this time, and if there’s one thing I learned at the leadership training, was that a life geared to making a difference was risky, lonely, possibly thankless, and not often pretty.  I couldn’t turn back. As an experienced quitter, I knew nothing new or fresh would be gained from quitting on this opportunity.

The first session came, all protocols observed and I stepped up to the podium. I was placing my butt on the line as a recovering alcoholic, first year undergraduate student at Daystar university, a husband to a Daystar university faculty member, and most of all, as a Christian ‘publicly’ confessing my salvation for the first time.

Yes, my life has been catapulted into different expressions than I previously thought impossible. Living in the impossible dream is still daunting. The war within is still a common phenomenon. In an expanded space of faith, however, I am gratified that I can now surrender my life, my will and the results of an uncertain future and impossible dreams to a God who I believe is all knowing and is the source of the past, present and future.

I also endeavor to be anything but the truest reflection of Christ that I can muster. It’s about progress, not perfection. I have since learned that Christians get depression, commit suicide, and get involved in criminal and corrupt schemes. And most of all, Christians are human beings. Yet, the hope I derive from this way of life is that the war within can still be won.

Whilst in third form at Strathmore I wanted to be a catholic. My aunt and godmother thought otherwise. She reckoned that I shouldn’t convert to Catholicism simply because I wasn’t going to be a good catholic. I only got it later that her reasoning was that I was already a lousy protestant and that a conversion would not produce the miracle I craved.

Besides now being a firm believer in a God of second and third chances, I am now an advocate that there is always something beyond our present reality. The greatest risk is to act as if it’s true.

And that’s the war within.

So please find attached the sermon I recently presented at the chapel sessions at Daystar University. 

OVERCOMING THE WAR WITHIN – The Sermon

Why I Really Need to Write

Now, almost two months down the line, you would imagine that I would have written about Our Wedding. Or that I would have written about That Article.

Or you would imagine that writing about the transitions from being a single unattached guy to a boyfriend to a fiance to a husband in the dream stage of marriage is a story well worth telling.

And in there, there a several stories that could be told;

Stories of overcoming cancer and alcoholism, of blended families, of finances and marriage, of depression, of gender roles in marriage. Stories about love and sex in old age as someone described us.  All these are stuff I could write about.

Or I could write about how the recovery journey and toil as I have known has borne dividends in real-time.

I could write about how perplexed my sweetheart and I were about the amazing goodwill from friends and family when we first announced that we were dating and later that we getting married.

I haven’t been writing. I have been husbanding and parenting and doing my intervention work. Yet writing was an integral part of our meeting, dating and getting married.

I could write about how I persuaded, cajoled and convinced my dearest to sign up for the ten-week premarital class experience amidst her protests that people might think that we were planning to get married. Ahem ahem!

I could write about how I felt hopeless when, on examining our respective backgrounds and getting a stark reminder of how rather structure-less and inconsistent (as if I didn’t know already) mine stood against hers. Her background was characterized by orderliness, discipline and predictability and, of course, structure and consistency. Now, how on earth could I possibly imagine being a responsible husband with that kind of background? I could even mention how my son, at the time, once stumbled upon me sighing loudly (sobbing sounds just sad). I think he was going to ask for a pony or something ridiculously huge like that. He noticed that my eyes were wet and in rare wisdom, he pretended that he’d forgotten what he wanted and quickly left the room.

Or I could also write that how I hoped to make a great husband was not the most important question I had to deal with during that Ndoa class. Being asked why I wanted to get married was. And I was strongly encouraged to go beyond my initial answer that I was getting married so that I would have ‘legitimate’ sex (where I could take a call from my mum without first running out of the room) for the first time in my life.

Then came the wedding planning process which I could also write about. I could tell you I was baffled that those who have trodden this path before never talked about how ‘adult’ this space is. Wedding planning, I feel, is a growing up experience and the wedding ceremony is an induction to the club of grownups. what with the juggling of choice of service providers to suit tastes other than our own; having conversations about and with exes; engaging in brutally honest conversations with our officiating pastors; or learning how to graciously receive support from friends and family. This was adults only stuff. My beloved and I got it early in the planning process the wedding was not just our own.

Oh yeah, there was also the story about the jeans fabric that I had to transfer to an alternative tailor. This was after the one who’d previously done great work for me preferred to have this fabric grace his shelf rather than my wedding. I am still baffled at how it was my fault that I embarrassed him among his peers. Is there a Fundi101 class that teaches the customer is always left…shocked?

I could also write about the interesting conversations with my fellow travellers on the recovery journey; some of whom acknowledged that it was a culmination and fruit of self-work; while others, being new on the recovery path, hoped that it wouldn’t take as long (their words) for them as it has taken for me to get a life partner. And I would assert that my gratitude is that I was certainly not husband material when I embarked on this adventure and urging them not to do it for the sake of getting a life partner. Staying sober is hard enough as it is.

I could write about the wedding. How I only got about four hours of intermittent sleep and hoped it wouldn’t show on the photos. How I broke down immediately I got to the door of the church dome about ten minutes prior to the start of the wedding ceremony.

I could write about when I first met my father-in-law a few months before the wedding and spent seven hours with him in what he later called an interview. And how I was totally intrigued by the whole conversation. And yet I could also write about how I am yet to call him, even to just to say hello.

And then I could reveal what wedding couples whisper to one another at the loneliness of the high table. Or the pleasant surprise of reading lovely quotes that my beloved had asked the cateress to put on the wedding cake.  Or the day after the wedding which they never tell you about.

I don’t know if it is a normal occurrence, but the anti-climactic depression on the day after the wedding was bizarre. We had had a great time at the wedding. The drama that we were assured would  most certainly happen did happen. At least it wasn’t as dramatic as my pal’s wedding who had no choice but to staple up his incomplete tailored wedding suit.

We wondered why we never settled for that 10 minute wedding option that we had initially hoped for.

I now get why the honeymoon is a most necessary experience (yeah yeah that, too) but more than that, it is a crucial buffer zone between a heady wedding season and sane return to a  reality where everybody seems to have a moved on to the next wedding. I got some good advice from Mathew to sleeeeep during my honeymoon.

Yet, despite almost two decades of foundation filling that recovery work is, for me finding love in my 40s is well worth it.

Keep Calm and Keep Writing

So, for now I will cherish the wife of my mid-life and use the grace of the dream stage of our  marriage – which I am told should last for another eighteen or so months – to build a foundation of that to die for finger licking vanilla flavoured scrumptious melodelicious, chocolate dripping snazzy lifetime discovery filled love life.

And then I will write.

I, the Interventionist

Intervention Aspects

Recently, I got a phone call from yet another distraught mother whose sixteen year old son is being discharged from his second stint in rehab this coming weekend. She was referred by a mutual acquaintance.

She wanted me to meet with him upon discharge to guide him along the path of recovery. Fair enough.

However, I suggested that I meet with her and her husband, before the said discharge, to set a foundation of family support and chart a recovery plan for all concerned. Again fair enough. In fact, she acknowledged that it sounded like a really novel idea. She would call me to set the appointment after consulting her husband.

She called back a couple of days later to set the appointment and I then informed her that I charge for the service. Her reaction to the fact that I charge for consultation and how much I would charge them was familiar. She was shocked that I even charge for the service

My reaction was different.

This time.

I kept quiet. I listened to her rant about my charging to help people. I was silently fighting an inner urge to tear down the picture she was painting of how bad I looked with every word she spoke. I was so tempted to offer a free service, let alone a discounted one.

Like I have done several times before.

I was tempted to feel guilty about charging a fee for the message of hope, possibility and freedom around addictions that I do that I spread through my work.

As I have done several times before.

She later communicated via a text message that upon consultation with her husband they would not be able to continue working with me.  I sent a polite acknowledgement thanking her for considering working with me and wished them all the best with their son. I really meant it.

She neither asked for a discount or a free service. I chose not to offer these of my own volition. Not this time anyway. I have done that several times as I set up my referral and interventions business. Mainly out of the distorted belief that what I offer is not a professional service. Yet from the number of enquiries and referrals I receive I am convinced it is a much needed service.

I have now come to believe that her reaction and indeed similar initial reactions from several family members that I have met in the past year of setting up the interventions agency,  is really an indictment of addiction rather than what I have to offer.

What I offer is borne primarily, and perhaps unsurprisingly so, of personal experience. When I commenced my recovery journey over 16 years ago, my family was not involved mainly due to the particular path I took and the lack of information at the time. It was a path mainly focused on the problem person (me) and the rapid results it brought about bred more of suspicion from my family members, both immediate and extended, rather than relief or even a sense of approval which I so desired at the time. I really couldn’t understand why this reaction was emanating from people who were often embittered, resentful and wary of my frequent drunken behaviour.

I often regretted my family’s reaction to my sobriety and the loneliness it generated. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that a band of strangers were to become closer to me than my relatives who had borne the brunt of my alcoholism. And those same relatives, I felt, should have been the first to celebrate my recovery, now that I was not stealing from them, insulting them or being a downright nuisance whether drunk, craving a drink or hung over from a drunken binge.

I believed that it was in fact good for them now that I wasn’t drinking. By taking responsibility for my recovery, wasn’t I also doing them a favour?

Reality hit me, I think, when I was in my tenth year of sobriety. I started being invited to family gatherings. Family would now want me to talk to a friend or wonder if they could give my number to so-and-so whose sibling had a drinking problem.

It then dawned on me.

My sense of regret was a trap. It was a racket I could hold on to that would keep me feeling sorry for myself for the minimal family support I received earlier in my recovery journey.

Or it could be an opportunity for others to avoid the same route. An opportunity to earn a living as a professional in an area that was strictly borne of experience, pain and loneliness. An opportunity that could pay the rent, mitigate my teenage son’s insatiable need to be relevant or buy flowers for the woman in my life.

I also saw that with time, it gave me great joy to witness real results of families walking in freedom and relief with the addict or alcoholic in their life. Relief because of information provided that the addict was not bewitched, belligerent or plain stupid. Relief from new understanding that addiction was a disease like any other. Freedom to create new possibilities of responsibility, harmony and wellbeing.

That is why as a professional interventionist, I have chosen to hone my skills for this specific group of people as my primary clients: the families and significant others of alcoholics and addicts.

Families and significant others are often not aware of the impact they have on the addict’s life and are often dismissed as being enablers. What they hear when, for instance, the addict is being admitted into a treatment centre is that they are to ‘blame’ for the addict’s circumstance. The fact is they are not to blame just as much as the addict himself is NOT to blame for his addiction. The family and significant others of the addict are, however, affected just as much as the addict because they are all in one system in which the addiction thrives.

So, yes, to some extent I was disappointed when the distraught parent halted our engagement.  More than that, however, I understand the action where they perhaps wondered why they have to pay for me to see them when clearly they weren’t problem person.

I really do wish them and their son well. The age of miracles is still with us.